What is Stumpwork?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Stumpwork or raised work is a form of embroidery in which three dimensional figures and scenes are created through the use of stuffing, batting, and stitches. This style of embroidery appears to be almost exclusively British in origin. Crafters in many regions of the world practice this technique today, with the style being popular in Australia and the United States as well as Great Britain. The modern descendant of stumpwork is puff embroidery.

Stumpwork is used to create three-dimensional designs.
Stumpwork is used to create three-dimensional designs.

The craze for stumpwork arose in the 1600s, with some companies even producing printed kits for crafters. The popularity of this embroidery technique receded almost as soon as it arose, experiencing a resurgence in the 1800s, when the term “stumpwork” was coined to describe it. The origins of the term, by the way, are a bit mysterious, with claims ranging from references to wooden batting used in traditional stumpwork to a corruption of "stamp," as in the stamps used to made commercial patterns for crafters. Today, like many hand crafts, stumpwork is practiced by a limited community of crafters who do it primarily for the novelty.

In stumpwork, there are a variety of ways to create a three dimension effect. Most typically, pieces of embroidery are performed on one base cloth and then attached to another, allowing the crafter to create the illusion of flower petals, flowing skirts, and other three dimensional design elements. People often do this craft on wire frames that are sewn into a base fabric, or with the use of layers of batting in the base fabric which are covered in stitches.

Traditional stumpwork is incredibly detailed. In addition to including basic embroidery, it may also include lace stitches, beading, and other sewing notions, and the scenes depicted can become quite elaborate. Typically no scale or perspective is used in these crafts, and botanical and biological accuracy is not a main concern. Often, the level of detail is so high that one must be right next to the piece to fully appreciate it.

This echnique was used to adorn padded boxes, garments, and wall hangings, among many other things. The scenes depicted varied considerably, from Biblical pieces to scenes of men and women in lush floral gardens. In the modern era, commercial puff embroidery is produced by embroidering over foam padding to create a raised effect, although some feel that this type of product does not have the same multidimensional aspect and rich detail.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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